Cabernet flour? Chefs get creative with a kitchen staple

Jan. 19, 2012 at 1:27 PM ET

Marek Uliasz / FeaturePics stock /

Flour is one of those necessary ingredients we all take for granted. Now, chefs are sprucing up the pantry staple with some wild flavors.


Michael Piazza /
Pasta made from black olive and truffle flour.

Think black olive and truffles: At PICI Enoteca in Beverly Hills, chef Jason Harley has added both to semolina to give body and rich flavor to his dough. With it, he makes ravioli that are stuffed with short ribs, more chopped olive and truffle and creamy, garlicky Boursin cheese. To make the flour, Harley dries out the olives and truffles in the oven and uses a food processer to grind them into a fine dust.   

Noah Fecks /
Oceana's cabernet bread

At Oceana in Midtown Manhattan, pastry chef Jansen Chan uses cabernet flour that is made by a similar process. Chan gets it from Vinifera, a company in Ontario that makes powders from Canadian cabernet and chardonnay grape skins. Chan uses the flour for a sweet, tart bread for Oceana’s cheese plate, and has put it in desserts like his cabernet angel food cake. “It’s very reminiscent of the wine without being alcoholic since the grapes were never fermented,” said Chan. “It’s an unusual product that gives a chance to bring a familiar flavor through a different vehicle.”

In Cambridge, Mass., chef Tony Maws uses corn, buckwheat, chestnut, acorn, semolina, rye and homemade lentil flours at Craigie On Main. “They all have their own flavors and characters,” he said. Indian cuisine inspired the lentil flour, which he uses to make bright yellow pasta with crab and ham. And duck with rye rigatoni is a shout-out to his Jewish heritage. “The thing about flour is that once upon a time it was indigenous of where people were from,” said Maws. “In some parts of Eastern Europe, they only had rye flour because that’s what grew.”

Working with different types of flours, said Maws, can be challenging. Use trial and error, and this list to help guide you:

  • All-purpose flour: Made with roller-milled, refined wheat, this is the most common flour. Good for yeast-risen breads, cookies, pancakes and most non-pastry desserts.
  • Almond flour: Slightly finer than almond meal, this is good for most baking save for bread. It’s a good substitution if you want to make something low-carb; just make sure to grease your pan well as it tends to stick.
  • Amaranth flour: This high-protein grain flour is used in conjunction with other flours for baking, and is gluten free with a rich, nutty flavor.
  • Barley flour: This contains less gluten than wheat flour and is used with other flours to make breads, baked goods and as a soup thickener. Most people use it for the extra fiber it packs — almost four times the amount as all-purpose.
  • Buckwheat flour: Buckwheat has an earthy, mushroom-like taste and is popular in Russian blinis, French galettes and ploye, a pancake popular in the northeast regions of Canada.
  • Cake flour: Use this flour to make cakes and delicate pastries. Unlike all-purpose flour, cake flour has less protein, so it's not dense enough for bread.
  • Cassava flour: This, like tapioca flour, is made from the cassava plant. The latter is comprised of the starch, while this one utilizes the root. It’s gluten-free, immune to all bugs, and can substitute for wheat flour.
  • Chestnut flour: This sweet, low-fat, high-carb flour is perfect for many desserts. Italians have used chestnut flour for centuries. It’s also gluten-free.
  • Corn flour: Whether you go white, yellow or purple, corn flour is used for tortillas, muffins, pancakes and bread. Don’t get it confused with cornmeal: Corn flour is finer and it's also gluten-free.
  • Durum flour: Because of its high protein and gluten content, this flour is best for bread and pasta. Durum’s outer layer is what makes semolina, but the whole grain is used for firmer pastas.
  • Garbanzo bean flour: Also known as chickpea flour, it can substitute for rice flour and is great in bread, pizza dough, cakes and cookies.
  • Graham flour: Just as you suspected, graham flour, named after Sylvester Graham, the father of American nutrition, is used to make graham crackers. Made from bran, it comes coarser than most. 
  • Millet flour: Because this flour has a low gluten content, it needs a binding agent like xanthan gum to help keep it together. It's a bit sweet, so it lets you cut down on sugar and can give added crunchiness to bread.
  • Oat flour: With a nutty flavor, this flour is low in gluten but needs to be combined with wheat flour in order to let bread bake properly. It’s made from whole hulled oats and can help make bread moist.
  • Potato flour: Made from dehydrated potatoes, this flour is best used as a thickener for sauces and soups. Also good for potato-based recipes; just avoid using for baking as it absorbs too much liquid.
  • Rice flour: Like rice, this is naturally gluten-free and comes in white or brown. Though you can substitute for many wheat flour-based recipes, it does work a little differently.
  • Rye flour: Best in bread or pasta, the rye flavor in this flour remains strong. It acts similar to other baking flours, though there are various kinds including light, dark, medium and primary. Just make sure you know which you are purchasing.
  • Semolina pasta flour: This flour is the most popular for pasta since its levels of cellulose and protein are high. 
  • Spelt flour: In the 9,000-plus years spelt has been used, it has gained popularity in many cultures. It's lower in gluten than wheat flour, but you can use it the same way; just watch breads when they rise. Also, spelt needs less water than other flours.
  • Tapioca flour: Also from the cassava plant, tapioca flour is gluten-free and great in desserts. Because it has a bland flavor, it’s great when you don’t want to mask the profiles of other ingredients.
  • Teff flour: Best known for its use in the traditional bread from Ethiopia called injera, teff flour is popular because of its delicious taste and the nutritious punch it packs.
  • Unbleached white flour: This common, versatile, refined wheat flour is used for just about everything.
  • Whole wheat flour: With similar properties as white flour, it has a nutty taste and makes baked goods slightly denser. 

Linnea Covington is a freelance writer and eater who will try any drink, dish, or sweet at least once, especially if it involves chili or bourbon.